How two ‘Sopranos’ wise guys launched a podcast from their coronavirus quarantine
“The Sopranos” stars Michael Imperioli (a.k.a. Christopher Moltisanti) and Steve Schirripa (Bobby “Baccalà” Baccalieri) are quarantined on opposite coasts, but they launched a podcast anyway. Oh, the stories they tell.
Steve Schirripa and Michael Imperioli — respectively, the sweet-natured foot soldier turned capo Bobby “Baccalà” Baccalieri and Tony Soprano’s swaggering hothead protégé Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos” — dropped a TV rewatch podcast called “Talking Sopranos” on Monday. Their plan is to revisit all 86 episodes of the landmark HBO crime series. Sometimes they will have guests; sometimes it will just be the two men shooting the breeze in their rasping wiseguy voices.
If it lives up to its potential, “Talking Sopranos” could be a godsend in these difficult times: a chance for everyone sheltering in place to escape inside an episode, to recall the glory that is this iconic, beautifully made crime drama in all its emotional and physical violence and eccentric hilarity, guided by two insiders breaking down the action and swapping memories.
Originally Schirripa and Imperioli planned to record “Talking Sopranos” from a professional sound studio in the East Village, but the coronavirus crisis necessitated a change of plans. With Schirripa holed up in his Wall Street apartment and Imperioli based in Santa Barbara, the two men were instead given podcast-quality microphones and instructions on how to use the Zoom conferencing app. Also essential: Schirripa’s 24-year-old daughter, Ciara.
“Thank goodness she’s here,” Schirripa says of his youngest child. “I call her my own unofficial P.A. She plugs in the mike and Zoom and all that stuff. She’s a graduate student [but home now]. I said to her, ‘We need to work on Friday, Saturday and Monday. So make sure you’re around because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.’”
Schirripa also admits to having never listened to a podcast. But it doesn’t matter: Both he and Imperioli are natural storytellers. Right now, the podcast is a bit shaggy. In the first installment, Imperioli kicks things off by admitting they’re both depressed and they don’t begin rewatching the hour-long pilot until 34 minutes into the podcast. But when they click, the tales are singular. On what other podcast can you hear that actor Tony Sirico, who played the preening thug Paulie Walnuts, was once a nightclub bouncer and claimed to regularly give wedgies to Jimi Hendrix?
Sometimes they even surprise each other. “It was Stevie Van Zandt, Michael Rispoli and Jim Gandolfini who were up for Tony Soprano — I had no idea,” says Schirripa, adding that he’s looking forward to Rispoli — who was ultimately cast as Tony’s close friend, Jackie Aprile Sr., the first acting boss of the DiMeo crime family — joining them to discuss Episode 4.
“I want to talk to him,” says Schirripa. “I mean, how does that feel? Not getting the lead gig and then the show explodes? There’s just a ton of stuff to ask.”
Rispoli isn’t the only one whom they’re eager to quiz. Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler, who played Tony Soprano’s kids, show up on the third episode. Casting directors Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe said yes, as have directors Terence Winter and Allen Coulter, as well as the writing team of Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess.
Imperioli and Schirripa are optimistic that at some point creator David Chase will join them. “We’re expecting to have on most of the cast, guest stars and crew,” Schirripa says. “The crew were there every day. We want to talk to location and to the makeup guy. I find all that stuff so interesting.”
As it happens, Schirripa didn’t show up on “The Sopranos” until the second season, which for purposes of exploring the first season puts him in the role of interviewer, drawing details out of Imperioli, a cast member from Day One and eventual writer of five episodes.
Imperioli says that part of their low-key, easygoing chemistry has to do with the fact that they are very close friends in real life. But it’s also clear from listening to their “Talking Sopranos” stories that they came to acting from opposite directions.
Imperioli, who went to acting school, started landing film, TV and theater roles by age 21 and already knew many of his costars when he started on “The Sopranos.”
“I’m a lifer actor,” is how Imperioli puts it. “And Steve had a whole other life in show business in Vegas where he dealt with performers, comedians, mobsters and gamblers. So we’re very different people and that’s fun too.”
Imperioli is referring to a well-known part of Schirripa’s back story: Born in Bensonhurst to a low-level bookie, he was the entertainment director at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas at the time he was cast on the series. Because Schirripa had only done a handful of bit parts in movies and television, he learned his trade on the “Sopranos” set.
Though he says he was largely left on his own to create the lovable dim bulb Bobby Baccalà, he was dismayed to discover that for the first couple of seasons, he’d be required to wear padding. “There I was, kind of green and in wardrobe,” he says of the wincing memory that is sure to make it on the podcast. “Then they fitted me for a fat suit, a big, fat fake ass, which was kind of humiliating.”
Just last year, Schirippa and Imperioli, joined by Vincent Pastore, who played Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, were on tour throughout Australia. Billed as “In Conversations With the Sopranos,” the three would discuss the series onstage and take questions from the audience. During their road show, which was so successful that they were able to book a string of 2020 appearances throughout the U.K., U.S. and Canada, they started noticing the impact of streaming services on the age of their demo.
“There’s this whole other generation who are just obsessed with it,” says Imperioli. “Not just like it. But obsessed with it. Some of them weren’t born when the show was on [in 1999]. So that really surprised me.”
About six months ago, the idea for a podcast began percolating. While there are already a sea of rewatch podcasts out there, most of them are hosted by fans, “not by two guys that were series regulars on the show, you know, this is the only one,” says Schirripa.
As it happens, “Office Ladies” has stars and best friends Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey at the helm, “The West Wing Weekly” is co-hosted by “West Wing” actor Joshua Malina, and “Battlestar Galacticast” is co-hosted by Tricia Helfer, who played Cylon model Number Six in the early-2000s “Battlestar Galactica” remake. But let’s not quibble.
Though two episodes of “Talking Sopranos” dropped this week, next week it will settle into a regular schedule that offers a new podcast installment every Monday morning.
For those who’d prefer to see Schirripa and Imperioli as they record the podcast, the rewatch conversations — captured on Zoom in split-screen in front of red velvet curtains from their respective homes — can also be found on YouTube.
Both men look forward to the day when they can record in a studio in each other’s presence.
“There’s just a different energy, you know?” says Imperioli, sounding wistful.
Which doesn’t mean they aren’t going full-speed ahead from their remote locations. “Right now it’s a weird time in our lives. There is literally nothing else going on,” he says. “The timing is right to keep doing them as much as we can.”
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